Sunday, January 25, 2009
Sermon - Epiphany 3 - Mark 1:14-20
“Be a Fish, Cast a Net”
Have you ever heard one of those big fish stories? Someone who went out to catch the big one, but after a mighty struggle, it got away. The “big fish story” has become a handy metaphor for all kinds of exaggerated tales people tell. It's a kind of tall-tale that gets a chuckle, but isn't taken too seriously.
When Jesus speaks of fish and fishing in today's Gospel, it's no tall tale. But it is a big fish story of another sort. Jesus calls fishermen to be among his first disciples, and sees in them a living metaphor to describe his kingdom. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”, he calls.
And so as we have read this passage over the years, we are told again and again that we too better get out there and start fishing – for Jesus calls us all to be fishers of men, to share the good news, to catch people for his kingdom, to preach the gospel..... but not so fast.
Let's back the metaphor up for a minute. Let's understand its parts. Then maybe we can get a better sense of what Jesus really means, how he calls us, and what he calls us to.
Jesus has the kingdom on his mind. It was the main content of his preaching. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” It's as if he's saying, “All right everyone, I have finally arrived. I am the king, after all. And I am here to establish my reign and rule. But my kingdom is not of this world. So my kingdom is different. I don't rule by force and coercion. I won't even make you pay me taxes. But I do call you to repent, to turn around, turn away from your sins. And turn to me. Trust in me. And the good news is this: I am here for you. I will die for you. I will rise from the dead for you. And believing in me, you will have eternal life.”
This kingdom, this reign and rule of God in the hearts of men, is part and parcel of Jesus himself. And so most of his parables and teaching focused on just what the kingdom was. What it was like, and how we are to get it or be in it.
So now, the fishing story. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. If that's the case, then people are fish. And to be “caught” is to come to faith. The net is the very gospel itself. And I would even suggest the boat is the church, where believers are gathered together for safe passage.
Perhaps you've seen a church sign which tries to pick up on this metaphor – the sign that says something like, “Be fishers of men. You catch 'em, he'll clean 'em” And while it may be a clever attention-getter, it's not quite scripturally accurate. Jesus does the cleaning of the fish, that's for sure. Through his word, and in the sacraments, he cleanses us from sin, purifies and makes us holy.
But it's not for us to catch the fish. We simply cast the net. Remember when Jesus met his disciples when they were out all night fishing, and having no luck. Remember how he told them to cast on the side of the boat just one more time. And to humor him, they did so – only to catch a miraculous bounty of fish that even began to burst the net? They could never have caught those fish alone – indeed, they didn't really do anything except follow Christ's instructions. But he made the miracle happen. They simply pulled in the catch.
We don't make people believe. We simply share the gospel. We, the church, that is, share the good news about Jesus, and the Spirit works faith when and where he will. Sometimes people reject the message, the fish that got away, if you will. But nonetheless we follow Christ's instructions, and baptize and teach the word to all nations. We do this in remembrance of him, for the forgiveness of our sins. We forgive sins on earth so that they are forgiven in heaven. We cast the net of the gospel into the sea of sin and the murky depths of this world's foul waters. And he does the miracle. He brings in the catch. He builds his church.
All of us, before we are fishermen, must be fish. We are, without him, lost in the murky depths of our sin. We don't necessarily even know it, since we were born into these dark depths. What fish could know that there's a whole world above, a different life on land and in sky? We must be, and are continually, “caught” in the net of his gospel. We are called to repent and believe, again and again. His kingdom comes to us, through his word, through our faith, by his grace. And so he cleans us. And so he instructs us, and calls us further to serve him and his kingdom.
Now, those first disciples were called to be fishers of men in a very public sense. They were the first pastors of the church. They were called to preach, that is, to cast the net of the gospel. After Jesus' ascension they and their successors established churches throughout the world. Schools of fish were brought into the nets, and into the ark of the Christian church.
And while everyone is called to faith, and while each believer must be continually caught in the net, not all are called to be pastors. You are, however, part of the crew. While it's not your task to preach the gospel, you can share privately the hope that is within you, when given the opportunity.
And if those opportunities seem rare, fear not and guilt not, for you are still part of the crew. You can, and you do, support the preaching and teaching of the word. Through your gifts and service and time and talents, you may not be the one throwing the net, but you are in the boat helping out. You support the ministry of the church. You pray for the gospel to have free course, and for sinners to repent and believe.
But most of all you are a fish, we all are, that needs continual catching and cleaning by the Great Fisherman. If a fish is caught in the everyday sense, his life is over. A fish out of water soon dies from lack of oxygen, and ends up as the restaurant special on Friday. But in the kingdom, things are different. We, his fish, are found safe and secure in his net, and on his boat. We are actually rescued from death in the water, and with him we live forever. He gives himself in the meal, for us to eat and drink. When we are caught by him, our life isn't over, it begins anew.
So repent and believe in him. Be a part of his kingdom, be a fish in his net, and fish for others when and how you can, according to your calling, and to the glory of his name. And with all the faithful, he will catch you and clean you again and again. In His Name, Amen.